University law students are often encouraged by their lecturers and peers to participate in moots. Moots are usually mock appeal court hearings where law students argue over disputed points of law in a fictitious criminal or civil case. Unlike simulated trials, moots are not concerned with ascertaining facts and other aspects of court procedure and therefore do not feature cross examination, witnesses or juries.
Mooting competitions have their own rules but in a typical moot there will be two teams consisting of two law students each. One student will take on the mantle of being senior counsel and the other that of junior counsel. In moots, both the senior counsel and junior counsel with make speeches and address the court through their oral submissions. This aspect of the moot tests the students’ advocacy abilities and the legal rigour of their arguments.
Prior to the actual moot itself, both teams will be given the moot problem beforehand. The moot problem contains the facts of the fictitious case, the decision of the lower court and the grounds of appeal against the lower court’s decision. In the time between being given the problem and the day of the moot, both teams will have to research the legal issues that arise, construct their arguments and prepare their submissions. Often, the teams will also have to submit skeleton arguments – which are short written submissions. Skeleton arguments help demonstrate the legal reasoning of the students and their written advocacy. They are also important because they act as summaries for the oral submission and therefore allow the mock judge to consider the legal arguments in advance.
Moots also test a student’s ability to think on his or her feet. This is because the moot judge can intervene during the oral submissions and ask questions. This aspect of the moot can cause some students to stumble because they will have only rehearsed their speech. An excellent mooter in contrast can use these interventions as opportunities to display their knowledge of the law and will be able to answer questions without faltering in their submission.
Once all mooters have completed their submissions, the judge will give their judgement. The judge will determine which team won on the basis of the law, and which team won on the basis of performance on the moot. Mooting performance is judged by criteria such as oral fluency, compliance with court etiquette, rigour of legal argument and response to judicial intervention. It is worth remembering that mooting performance is judged separately from which side had the better legal argument in a substantive sense, so it is irrelevant which team wins on the basis of the substantive law. So, what is mooting? Just about the best thing you could do at law school!